Developing a curriculum with inspiring experiences at Neston High School

Key features

  • Residentials for all year groups and all students
  • Planned to be progressively more challenging
  • Subject specific and cross curricular residentials

Neston High School in Cheshire is an 11-18 rural mixed comprehensive school of over 1,700 students. The ethos of the school encourages the development of residential experiences that enable students to apply their learning in different and real-world contexts, and broaden their horizons and aspirations for their future lives.

Neston High School is a Learning Away Champion School. In this case study, which describes their residential programme as a whole, staff at the school explain how they provide brilliant residential experiences for all of their students.

At Neston High School we encourage all curriculum areas to develop a residential programme that will support the students’ learning. All schemes of work have been re-written to incorporate Learning Outside the Classroom as a strand in their programmes. This strand complements the extensive programme of educational visits; the school has plans to run over 200 this year. The school has moved away from the phrases ‘extra curricular’ and ‘school trips’, developing a new culture and a desire for inspiring experiences across the school and the community.

How are your residentials integrated with the school curriculum and ethos?

The school’s governors and senior leadership team (SLT) have instilled an ethos that encourages the development of residentials across the entire curriculum. They have appointed a senior member of staff, the Leader of Extended Learning, whose responsibility is to support and guide staff in developing educational visits. This appointment demonstrates the value we place on residential experiences.

In Key Stage 3, all students have the opportunity to participate in two residentials. The first is designed to celebrate the learning and journey the students have made in their transition year. The second is at the end of the key stage and it has been designed to develop leadership skills, demanding resourcefulness, decision making and practical thinking, which are essential skills for Key Stage 4.

In Key Stages 4 and 5, each department is encouraged to run residentials that support the learning of the students, whether it be to enhance student’s coursework, gain a greater understanding of a topic or to simply change the student’s environment allowing them to focus on subject-specific revision. As a result there are residential opportunities across the entire curriculum.

How have you developed your residentials so that they are part of a progressive programme of experiences?

Key Stage 3 residentials are designed to give the students the confidence of being away from home. Their first experience is spent at the Conway Centre for one night, where they participate in a variety of activities from art and design to outdoor and adventurous activities. For many of the students this is their first residential experience and, to make things as easy as possible, they are with their tutor group for the whole of the residential and are supported by their form tutor. The Conway Centre is just over an hour’s drive from school, which gives the students the feeling that they are far away from home. However, in reality – if needed – home is accessible.

In Year 8, the students are offered a wide range of different residential experiences further afield, for example a dance residential to London, a French exchange to Toulouse and a geography field trip to Italy. Year 9 students are also invited to attend these residentials. In addition we offer a battlefields residential in Belgium and France, a sports tour to South Africa and a ski trip to the USA. They finish the key stage with a whole year-group bushcraft residential at Cholmondeley Castle, where they are encouraged to share their experiences. The residential programme is designed to build student confidence; it begins with experiences that are close to home and in an environment that is in some respects familiar to them, before going further afield as they move up the school and take part in residentials that incorporate more unfamiliar and challenging experiences.

Key Stage 4 and 5 residentials are designed to enhance and support the curriculum and, in turn, increase the students’ chances of reaching their full potential. For example, we return to the Conway Centre for coursework residentials in art and design, dance and PE. The business studies department take the students to London to attend the International Economics Conference. Geography field trips to the Lake District, Devon and Iceland are specifically designed to enhance the students’ course work and utilise specialist field study centres. The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme is run at the school and we have developed its expedition element to give students an experience of different areas of the country. As they progress through the levels, the environments are more challenging. The Bronze Award begins on the Wirral and the North York Moors, the Silver Award goes to Snowdonia and the Lake District, and the Gold Award goes to the Scottish Borders and Highlands. The French and German exchanges give the students real-life experience in a different country, enabling them to further enhance their linguistic skills. We have also developed collaborative residentials where departments join forces. The maths and English departments run a revision residential and the business studies and modern foreign languages departments run a residential to a European city, for example Berlin.

How have you designed your residentials so that they include a wide range of new and memorable experiences?

The school offers an array of different experiences to help the students develop their confidence and self-reliance, to give them opportunities to see or participate in alternative activities and to support their exam work. The activities and destinations combine to give our students new and memorable experiences and this is further enhanced by the residentials’ differing accommodation. We encourage all departments to run residentials and as a consequence the experiences offered to students are wide ranging. We aim to take students on visits to places they haven’t been before, or places they may have been to previously, but without the educational aspects to their visit.

Are your residentials inclusive and affordable for all your students? How do you ensure this happens?

All students are offered residential experiences across Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. Each year group has specific residentials and if students are unable to attend, they are given the opportunity in the following year. To make the residentials affordable the staff work with our finance department when planning residentials to reduce costs wherever possible. Students who are entitled to free school meals are eligible for a 66% subsidy and we support our parents by running information evenings at the start of the year, giving them as much notice as possible so that they can plan their finances. In addition to this we allow them to pay in instalments, which helps reduce the financial impact.

How are your residentials supported by your senior leadership team?

At Neston High School, the governing body and SLT believe that all students have the right to experience the unique and special nature of residentials and that it is important to enable them to use these experiences as a context for learning. The school’s senior leadership structure has a member of the SLT responsible for developing residentials. To support this process a wider leadership role has been created, the Leader of Extended Learning, and it is this person’s responsibility to support and encourage staff to develop and run residentials across all three key stages. In addition, any residential that goes abroad has a member of the SLT as part of the staff team to support the lead member of staff in what can be challenging circumstances.

How and why do you plan your residentials with learning objectives to meet students’ specific learning needs?

Our residentials are planned with specific learning objectives; indeed the school’s planning process requires the lead member of staff to submit an application to the headteacher for his approval. The learning objectives must be clear and appropriate for the headteacher to approve the residential. Our residential programme is designed to enhance the learning of our students and improve the delivery of the curriculum. The lead member of staff on a residential has to use the ‘Evolve’ package to process the paperwork; a part of this process requires them think in detail about the students they are taking and to be aware and make provision for any specific learning needs. Our SEN coordinator supports our residential programme by appointing an appropriate LSA to attend residentials where necessary.

How are your residentials led by teachers and, where or when appropriate, by students?

Our residentials are planned meticulously by the lead member of staff and support staff are informed of the plans and risk assessments prior to the event. The lead member of staff is responsible for student and staff wellbeing. Once on the residential, they ensure that the programme of activities undertaken do actually meet the planned learning objectives. They utilise the staff team, where appropriate, to support the students throughout the residential to enhance their whole experience. At the end of the residential the lead member of staff completes an evaluation and records any medical issues that may have occurred. In addition to this they will discuss the outcomes of the residential with their staff team to highlight any changes that would enhance the experience for the students next year.

Students have the opportunity to lead on specific residentials. For example on the Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions the students plan their route and lead themselves self-sufficiently throughout. On the public services expedition, the students lead a day walk and complete command (group problem-solving) tasks. The A-level geography field trip to Devon requires each individual student to plan and lead their own investigation.

How do you involve students in planning your residentials?

The nature of the residential will dictate the amount of input the students have in the planning. As mentioned above, the Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions, the public services expedition and the A’ level geography field trip require the students to plan the majority of the residential. However, on other residentials the students will asked to make decisions on different elements e.g. activity, location, groups, etc..

The students on the D of E Award scheme have to work as a team to plan all aspects of their expedition, which includes location, walking routes, menus and camping sites. In addition to this the students are self-sufficient and independent throughout the entire residential; they must navigate their way around the route, make camp and cook for themselves. We offer Bronze, Silver and Gold awards, and at each level they must complete a training and an assessment expedition.

How are your residentials designed to allow students to develop collaborative relationships with peers and staff?

All our residentials are designed to help the students develop their teamwork skills. From the start of the residential they are divided into travelling groups and, as such, have to work together to ensure everybody’s safety. Overnight they are in rooms and or tents with their peers and have to learn how to accommodate each other’s needs and adapt appropriately. The very nature of our residentials allows students to see the teachers in unfamiliar settings and, in some circumstances, very challenging situations, which can help strengthen their relationships. As students are placed in unfamiliar settings this inevitably leads to them having to develop their relationships with staff in order for them to get the most out of the experience. For example, when travelling abroad the students learn how to pass through customs and use foreign currency and for some this can be very daunting. However, they overcome their fears by asking for support from the staff when necessary.

On some residentials we use older students to work with and look after the younger ones, which helps develop relationships across year groups. In addition to this we also invite sixth form students to act as members of staff on certain residentials e.g. the French exchange and D of E Bronze expeditions.

How do you evaluate the impact of your residentials to ensure that they do meet those learning objectives?

At the end of the residential the lead member of staff completes an evaluation on ‘Evolve’. Significantly they ask for feedback from the students, who answer the following questions: What did you enjoy? What did you learn? What would you change? The lead member of staff also discusses the residential with their staff team to determine whether it met their planned learning objectives and to highlight changes that would enhance the experience for the students in the future.

How do you try to embed and reinforce the learning once back in school?

Most residentials have follow-up work to be completed on the students’ return. This might be writing up coursework, using data they have collected or simply to putting into practice the new skills they have learnt. Some of our residentials are organised to allow the students to fulfil aspects of award schemes and they will complete a log book or create a presentation demonstrating what they have learnt.

Highlighting one specific residential

The A-level geography residential field trip allows students to focus on coursework. They devise their own research question and plan the residential so that they can complete the research necessary for their individual piece of course work. The seven-day residential is based in two locations, the Eden Project and the Slapton Ley Field Study Centre. This allows them to compare and contrast different areas. They plan the week and utilise school staff and staff at both centres. The residential is therefore a unique experience for all involved. The students review each day, and adapt and alter plans where necessary to accommodate each other’s research. They learn how to work as a team, even though they are working on an individual research project, and how to overcome limitations in resources to successfully complete their coursework.